Film

The Liberator Offers an Elementary-School Version of Simon Bolivar

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To celebrate Simon Bolivar, Venezuela’s answer to George Washington, is to mourn the death of a fanciful and impossible idea: the pan–Latin American state.

A key figure in Hispanic America’s independence from Spain, Bolivar is eye-rollingly romanticized as a wonderful lover and an even better fighter in Alberto Arvelo’s lushly produced, dully reverential The Liberator, Venezuela’s submission for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. Played by Édgar Ramírez, this Bolivar isn’t any deeper than the elementary-school version of the hero: He came, he saw, he liberated. Timothy J. Sexton’s bilingual script merely lists the military leader’s triumphs and setbacks, with scant attention paid to dramatic structure or character development.

The portrait of the general as a young man is the most compelling, as when the idealistic aristocrat initially tries to buy independence by hiring an aging mercenary to lead his men for him. Speaking mainly in slogans, Ramírez never manages to find Bolivar’s humanity. It is, rather, the film’s intricate and restless geopolitics that intrigues most, with English investors (represented by a magnetically slimy Danny Huston) and Irish allies eager to find their footing in — and possible claims on — this new New World.

Fascinatingly but frustratingly, the film insists on eulogizing Bolivar’s never-realized dream of a unified Latin America governed by a single administration — an ambition never backed up by convincing justification. Those craving nationalistic inspiration might well look beyond Bolivar to Venezuelan-American conductor Gustavo Dudamel, whose unobtrusive but elegant and varied score best conveys Latin America’s proudly hybridized history.